Sunday, 19 August 2012

Listening to women in Afghanistan

THE conversation Afghanistan: A Woman’s Struggle with Dr Claire Duncanson, Horia Mosadiq and Firuz Rahimi led to a lively, questioning and critical discussion that hinged around breaking down misconceptions about Afghanistan and its people.

It is important not to view all Afghan women as victims ‘hiding behind their burkas’, the session at the Festival of Spirituality and Peace in Edinburgh heard.

The women of Afghanistan are not a homogeneous group. As everywhere, beliefs and practices vary according to geography, class and age. Mosadiq brought up the different ideas of ‘freedom’ held by different women, highlighting that they are often not the same as those of western women. It’s equally important not to generalise Afghan men as abusers.

Intervention in Afghanistan can all too easily reinforce these ideas. Even non-military intervention can have a negative impact: is it possible to intervene in the struggle of Afghan women at all without reinforcing the discourse of victims and abusers?

It was suggested that perhaps change must come from within, as in the case of the British women’s suffrage movement, but Mosadiq said that many Afghan feminists want practical support and don’t want to get bogged down in theoretical arguments.

The question of whether military invention was justified was discussed/ Rahimi argued that the war in Afghanistan was a ‘just war’, but it was also suggested that intervention could and should have taken some other form.

Rahimi, from the BBC Afghan service, was most interested in the question of how to reconcile women’s rights with the need to make a settlement with the Taliban to achieve peace.

This is a particularly thorny issue. According to Rahimi it has recently become increasingly evident that some kind of settlement must be made as the Taliban are part of the Afghan people and cannot be ignored, but it is less evident where the line must be drawn. As ever, Afghan feminists do not agree on this.

The wide variety of views expressed showed the complexity of the issues at hand. Overall, an eye-opening and thought-provoking conversation.


(c) Katie MacFadyen is a media intern with the Festival of Spirituality and Peace. She is reading Classics at the University of Edinburgh. 

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